From the Arabic madina (city), the medina is the heart and soul of Marrakech. Largely surrounded by its original ramparts and 12th-century fortress walls of red earth, this ‘fully preserved historic town’, as UNESCO has called it, is a World Heritage Site. It presents a captivating inner world of winding lanes, old fondouks (inns), hammams and souks (shops) of every kind amidst the enticing smells of cumin, mint tea and barley bread baking in communal ovens.
Apart from the boutique in Amanjena, there is a profusion of shopping options within Marrakech. A number of specialist antique shops have recently opened and the numerous souks display great diversity. Rural markets, with their vegetables, sheep heads, mules, saddles and portable steam baths, are a delightful distillation of everyday Moroccan life. Amanjena offers guided tours through the souks: visiting tanneries, traditional bakeries and hammams, where everyday subsistence living has a charm unlike anywhere else, are immensely rewarding, as much can be drawn from their edifying and uncomplicated way of life.
Marrakech’s most memorable landmark is the 12th-century Koutoubia Minaret, the tallest structure in the city at 70 metres. Built in classic Moorish-Moroccan style, it is the oldest and grandest of the surviving Almohad-era towers. Established in the 14th century and completely rebuilt in the 16th century, the Ben Youssef Medersa is among the most beautiful of Marrakech’s buildings. Recently restored, the former Islamic theological college features zellij tiles, carved wood and intricate plaster work.
The ancient Place Djemaa el Fna is one of the busiest squares in Africa, bustling with dancers, acrobats and musicians by day, and transforming into an open-air restaurant at night.
Marrakech is rife with palaces, but the 16th-century El Badi Palace, now in ruins, was once the largest and most luxurious of them all. Every June it takes on a hint of its former grandeur, hosting the National Festival of Popular Arts, Morocco’s biggest annual music and folklore festival. The palace also incorporates the Koutoubia Minbar, a masterpiece of medieval religious craft.
Download a map of Marrakech here